kentawolf (kentawolf) wrote,

"Why do I hafta be some kind of hero?" A Hero's Journey Analysis of Supernatural: Season Two Part I

Sorry it took so long to get this up! I warn you, it's gonna be a wait for Season Two, Part II.


Season One, Part I: Introduction, The Call to Adventure (John, Dean, Sam), The Refusal of the Call (Sam, Dean), Supernatural Aid (Sam, Dean)

Season One, Part II: Crossing the First Threshold (Sam, Dean), The Belly of the Whale, Atonement With the Father (John), Apotheosis(John), The Ultimate Boon (John)
Season Two, Part I: The Special World, The Road of Trials, Sam's Meeting With the Goddess
Season Two, Part II: (Forthcoming) Dean's Meeting With the Goddess, Dean's Refusal of the Call (!Again!), Dean's Atonement With the Father, Dean's Apotheosis, Dean's Ultimate Boon, Sam's Rescue From Without

“Why do I hafta be some kind of hero?”

A Hero’s Journey Analysis of Supernatural

Season Two, Part I


Season Two: The Initiation

The first image of Sam and Dean is from behind the fire of their father’s pyre. Their faces are hazy, warped by the flame. Sam openly fidgets, tears streaming. Confused, he asks his brother if their father said anything. Dean stares blankly into the fire. “No,” he answers, after a pregnant pause. A tear betrays his inner grief despite the straight face.

                The cinematographic decision to place the pyre between the camera and the Winchester boys indicates the beginning of the Initiation. The Special World contrasts heavily with the Ordinary World of the hunting life from Season One. “A Special World…has a different feel, a different rhythm, different priorities and values, and different rules…there is a movement and change as new emotional territory is explored” (Vogler 136). For precisely the “different feel” of everything, Season Two is the Special World. First of all, the brothers are without their father, who defined their entire lives. Secondly, hunting is no a longer black and white ethical action. Third, even their selves – who and what they are – becomes unstable. And at times unreliable. The camera shot through the pyre symbolizes this uncertain new ground.

Specifically, the pyre-shot indicates the Road of Trials. “Once having traversed the threshold, the hero moves in a dream landscape of curiously fluid, ambiguous forms, where he must survive a succession of trials” (Campbell 97). Sam and Dean are depicted hazily because their selves – mentally, emotionally, spiritually – have lost their stability. Now it isn’t clear where their path leads. They lost their anchor (John), their purpose (the Yellow-Eyed Demon), and means (the Colt).The flame-wavered image of the boys symbolically depicts this ambiguous Self.

                The sense of floating helplessness continues in the next scene. Like all confused heroes, Sam and Dean hole up at their Mentor’s to recover. Sam and Dean’s new Mentor is Bobby Singer, shrewdly introduced in the Supernatural Aid stage in Season One. “The hero is covertly aided by the advice, amulets, and secret agents of the supernatural helper whom he met before his entrance into this region” (Campbell 97). Three weeks after burning John’s corpse, at Bobby’s truckyard, with Bobby’s tools, Dean tinkers underneath the bare skeleton of the broken Impala.

                Sam approaches his big brother and tries to get Dean to open up. To deal with their father’s death. His brother snaps at him sarcastically.

                So Sam becomes equally snarky and points out their inaction. All Dean has been doing is working on the Impala. “Another Test of the hero is how quickly she can adjust to the new rules of the Special World” (Vogler 139). The Winchesters can’t adjust. Dean hasn’t been out gathering intel on supernatural activities. He hasn’t been scanning obituaries. He hasn’t been cleaning his guns. He hasn’t been consulting with Bobby. He hasn’t been doing anything save repairing the Impala. But it is both boys who have been floundering in the new world. The Special World. The world without their father.

                                Sam: Say something! Alright? Hell, say anything!

            Aren’t you angry? Don’t you want revenge? But

            all you do is sit out here all day long buried under-

            neath this damn car!

Sam: I don’t care how you deal with this, but you have to

            deal with this, man!

Sam: And I’m not alright. Not at all. But neither are you.

(“Everyone Loves A Clown”)

Just as Dean rebuilds the Impala to rebuild his soul, Sam rededicates himself to the family business to rededicate himself to his family.

                Unfortunately, the new world demands more than good intentions, and the skills the heroes successfully used in the Departure are just not going to cut it. Dean clearly states their almost utter lack of ability to find their ground again, even using their previous skills as hunters:

                                Dean: Revenge, huh?

                                Sam: Yeah!

                                Dean: Sounds good. You got any leads on where the

                                            Demon is? Makin’ heads or tails on any of Dad’s

                                            research? ‘Cause I sure ain’t. You know when we

                                            do finally find it – oh, no wait. Like you said: the

                                            Colt’s gone. But I’m sure you’ve figured out another

                                            way to kill it. We got nothin’, Sam. Nothin’, okay?

                                            So the only thing I can do? Is I can work on the car.

                                (“Everybody Loves A Clown”)

                Their hunter methods of detective work will not suffice for this completely unexpected world. The shock and confusion of the Special World is too much for Dean and he falls back on the one thing he can do: repair the Impala. He realizes more than Sam that they are utterly helpless and unprepared. “No matter how many schools he has been through, he’s a freshman all over again in this new world” (Vogler 135). The elder Winchester may have a lifetime of hunting under his belt, but nothing will succeed and he is at a loss. Even their Mentor is not enough. They need allies to face the new challenges.

                Borrowing Mentor Bobby’s spare van, the Winchester brothers visit a bar called the Roadhouse, whose address Sam gleaned from hacking John’s cell phone. Inside they meet Ellen and Jo Harvelle, the mother and daughter who run this truck-stop for hunters. The Roadhouse is the watering hole where hunters stop by for a beer, gather information and grab a job. Vogler notes “bars are natural spots to recuperate, pick up gossip, make friends, and confront Enemies” (140). Sam and Dean need the Roadhouse – its stability, centrality, connections, allies and enemies therein – to recuperate from a tragic loss. They need it to ground them in the frighteningly vast, foreign landscape of the Special World.

                Ellen Harvelle is the primary ally of the brothers Winchester. The boys are surprised to learn that their father knew about her, collaborated with her, and in fact knew about a whole network of hunters. Ellen initiates them into all this knowledge, and also into a new set of rules that govern this “hunter underworld,” this hunter subculture.

                In the second episode of Season Two, “Everybody Loves a Clown,” Sam whips out his cell phone when the boys are stuck on a job. “Maybe Ellen or that guy Ash will know something,” he says as he dials. Nothing in John’s Journal seems to match the current creature they are hunting - nothing in their former training or knowledge seems to match the creature - and so the boys have to reach out to their allies for help. Just as Dean notes that they are helpless, so Sam admits that they are helpless: “So look, if you can help, we can use all the help we can get.” And in response, Ellen points them to Ash.

    Ash is a scruffy “don’t-judge-a-book-by-it’s-cover” character that wears “hillbilly” on the outside and harbors an MIT education on the inside. Sam and Dean hand over John’s research on the Yellow-Eyed Demon to Ash for him to compile. For him to make sense of. Because nothing in their former training or knowledge helps their understanding of it. The heroes reach out to allies to help them in this new world, a place where their Departure skills won’t take them all the way.

                Note that in Season One, the only one they could contact for help was their father. And then Bobby, much later in the season. Both their Mentors. In Season Two, they have a wider variety of new people to assist them. Most importantly, these new people have an equal relationship with them. Their interactions are not as tense with the “teacher-student” atmosphere, and the behavior is much more casual. This indicates that Season One is the Departure, and Season Two is the Initiation.

                    Ellen specifically warns them about Gordon Walker.

                                Sam: Got a question.

                                Ellen: Yeah, shoot.

                                Sam: You ever run across a guy named Gordon Walker?

                                Ellen: Yeah, I know Gordon.

                                Sam: And?

                                Ellen: He’s a real good hunter. Why you askin’, sweetie?

                                Sam: Well, we ran into him on a job, and we’re kinda working

                                        with him, I guess.

                                Ellen: Don’t do that, Sam.

                                Sam: I thought you said he was a good hunter?

                                Ellen: Yeah, and Hannibal Lector’s a good psychiatrist. Look,

                                         he is dangerous to everyone and everything around him.

                                        If he’s workin’ on a job, you boys just let him handle it

                                        and move on.


Ellen tips off the boys as to the hidden nature of Gordon, a fellow hunter. The brothers learn that though hunters may be skilled, they also may be frightening. The side of the “good guys” (i.e. hunters) is not always populated by the most stable of minds and the most clean of souls. Some hunters – and especially Gordon – are enemies. This category of their life violently hits them an unexpected angle. But Ellen serves to gently wean Sam and Dean, who as essentially newborn infants into this society need help seeing things clearly with their blurry newborn vision. So they know not to touch hot stoves and to steady them when they stumble out of the threshold’s belly.

                Dean falls out of the gate first into a pitiless plunge into the spiritual labyrinth of the Initiation. Closer to his father than Sam, he feels John’s death like an ice-cream scooper gouged a piece out of his soul. (This spiritual “hole” is discussed later.) The price of the Journey is the non-comfort of the hero. Growth is both outward and inward in the Initiation.

                                And so it happens that if anyone – in whatever society

- undertakes for himself the perilous journey into the

darkness by descending, either intentionally or unintentionally,

into the crooked lanes of his own spiritual labyrinth, he

soon finds himself in a landscape of symbolical figures.

                                (Campbell 101)

Like Sam struggling with his destiny, Dean will wrestle with not only the monsters of the dark, but his own inner darkness. Both brothers have to come to grips with their own souls, and to do that requires a painful Journey within. They must scrutinize who and what they are as a human and as hero to Journey forth. They partially don’t want to visit the unseeable depths because they were comfortable in the world of the Departure. Dean had his father and his brother, together as a family for a brief blip of a few episodes, and every decision was simple: if it’s evil, then it must die. Sam finally rediscovered his family and found the creature responsible for Jessica’s death, and his simple mission of revenge was only about her. In Season Two, the brothers are ripped out of this comfort and forced to face their inner demons (pun truly intended).

                They face a whole new world, where the stage and players are far more vast than they could have imagined. But however large the mythos grows, it is the internal turmoil of navigating the frightening passages of their own spiritual labyrinth that the brothers Winchester drive their Hero’s Journeys.

                The first stage in the Initation, the Road of Trials, is fraught with just that: trials and ordeals. These are the episodes where Sam and Dean hunt a creature, and through that hunt, grow out of their prior places in the world. In Season One, by the single fact they sought their father marks both Sam and Dean as the archetypical “Son.” Now that their father is not among the living, they must redefine themselves.

                So what is easiest to those wallowing in the groundless space of finding themselves?

                The job they’ve always done.

                It is through the routine of the job that the Winchester brothers have to learn to grow up. “In our dreams,” Campbell writes, “the ageless perils gargoyles, trials, secret helpers, and instructive figures are nightly still encountered.” Now, however, the heroes see a reflection of their past and future. They could hunt with all the same manners of the Departure, of Season One. But in the Initiation, though they see all the usual manner creatures as before, they see them in a different light.

                Sam performs as Dean’s conscience in his battle reconceiving the world. Basically, he stays his brother’s hand by injecting grey into Dean’s black-and-white ethics.

                Yet Dean has already been wavering from his polarized, comfortable morals. In “Devil’s Trap,” Meg’s exorcism raised a problem he never considered possible: that the family motto of “saving people, hunting things” is a paradox. Since childhood, hunting things always led to saving people. The exorcism saved Meg from a life of self-imprisonment. Unfortunately, that free life was all of five minutes – her body was too broken. In truth, it was a mercy killing.

                In “Faith,” the boys’ hunt was halt a preacher’s wife from using a Reaper to murder people she deemed wicked. She traded these innocents’ life force to save those with terminal illnesses. By their hunt they stop her from playing God. However, in the process, they deprive the fated of their salvation.

                These two actions left Dean in a new ground. The Winchester creed was no longer a promise: it was, at best, a hope. No longer was saving people a necessary consequence of hunting things, a plain equation. Now there was grey.

                In the episode “Bloodlust,” the Winchester boys face vampires who refuse to feed on humans. Dean immediately falls on instinct to guide him, because it is the training of his father. He also tries to fill the dark, deep hole that both John’s death and Dean’s own unnatural revival left.

                                Sam: Dean, you really don’t remember anything?

                                Dean: No. ‘Cept for this pit in my stomach. Sam, something’s


                                (“In My Time of Dying”)

                                Dean: I feel like I have this…

                                Gordon: Hole inside you? And it keeps on getting bigger

                                            and bigger and darker and darker? Good. You can

                                            use it. Keeps you hungry. Trust me, there’s plenty

                                            out there that needs killing, and this will help you

                                            do it.


                                Sam: You know, you slap on this big fake smile, but I know

             how you feel, Dean. Dad’s dead. And he left a hole and

            it hurts so bad you can’t take it.


Dean tries to fill his emotional hole with violence – clean, decisive violence. It is action. It is satisfying. “When I killed that vampire at the mill, I didn’t even think about it. Hell, I even enjoyed it” (“Bloodlust”). It seems to root the cloudy, ambiguous world of the Initiation in The Usual.

                Until Sam confronts him with the ambiguity and forces him to stop. To think. To observe the facts instead of proceeding with childhood teachings. It is time for Dean to grow into a fully autonomous individual, instead of using daddy’s black-and-white lenses.

                Dean and Sam were raised to see the supernatural as black and white.

                                    Dean: What if we’ve killed things that didn’t deserve

killing? You know, I mean the way Dad raised us…

to hate those things. And, man, I hate ‘em. I do.


Sam never accepted it. Dean took it to heart – it was instinctual. It is a “process of dissolving, transcending, or transmuting the infantile images of our personal past” (Campbell 101). But now he has to outgrow these ‘infantile images’ and think on his own. Daddy’s rules are not enough in this new world.

                Why, though, should the Winchester boys go through torment? Just because the Hero’s Journey requires them to? Shouldn’t they remain with the black-and-white perspective? Doesn’t that produce more decisive action? They do need to find some way to track down the Yellow-Eyed Demon, kill it and finish their father’s work. They can’t just pussyfoot around until they feel better.

                The heroes never “feel better,” anyways.

                The whole reason the boys are pulled through the ethical ringer is because there is a very difficult decision to prepare for. Every hunt they proceed through quavers Sam and Dean’s ethical stance because of the hunt’s essential grey nature.

                And every thing they hunt Dean sees reflected a looming situation.

                It is first apparent in “Bloodlust,” when Gordon tries to convince Dean that the good vampire Lenore is deceiving him. Gordon finally finishes the story of how he came to be a hunter.

                                    Dean: The vampire that killed your sister deserved to

                                                die, but this –

                                    Gordon: [laughs] Killed my sister. That filthy fang didn’t

                                                kill my sister. It turned her. It made her one of

                                                them. So I hunted her down and killed her myself.

                                    Dean: You did what?

                                    Gordon: It wasn’t my sister anymore. It wasn’t human.

                                                I didn’t blink. And neither would you.


Sam continues the conversation with Gordon while Dean stares at his brother in mild shock. He stares not at Gordon. At his brother.


                Because he is now gauging whether he could kill his little brother. Without blinking.

                Dean is lost for a good twenty seconds, face completely raw with his fear. He already knows he couldn’t. He couldn’t unhesitatingly pull the trigger on his younger brother. It is the exact image of him executing “turned” Sam that has mouthy Dean speechless.

                And it would have been a hollow speculation if not for John’s final Order to Dean.

                It is the whispered secret of the season opener, “In My Time of Dying.” John smiled bitterly while Dean appeared shell-shocked. And then Dean didn’t tell Sam. No one heard it save for Dean; even the audience knew not what John’s last words were.

                But this is the first moment that hints as to what that secret is.

                The ethically ambiguous hunts are necessary because they closely resemble the emotional and mental situation Dean is in. He must proceed through them in order to discover how he eventually will deal with Sam. And Sam must proceed through them in order to discover how he will eventually deal with himself.

                Because some day Dean will have the gun to his brother’s head.

                John’s final order: save Sam, or you will have to kill him. At this point Dean cannot think of anything more than the Order, and how it’s “screaming in my head all day” (“Hunted”). He is in shock. But by having to make grey decisions in formerly black-and-white situations, Dean learns of his capacity to carry out the Order. If Sam turns evil, will Dean kill him (because Dean believes everything evil should be killed)? And is it “courage” to kill an evil Sam, or will Dean feel like he’s failed his little brother? What constitutes “evil,” and is Sam still Sam?

                Once Dean revealed the Order to Sam in the beginning of “Hunted,” Sam must also discover his own nature. He struggles with the philosophical giants of free will versus determinism: Is his evil turn inevitable? Could he stave off and perhaps counter-weight it with good deeds, like he says he’s trying to do in “Playthings”? Is the individualistic, self-governed hero in reality destined?

                                The hero, whether god or goddess, man or woman,

the figure in a myth or the dreamer of a dream, discovers

and assimilates his opposite (his own unsuspected self)

either by swallowing it or by being swallowed. One by one

the resistances are broken. He must put aside his pride,

his virtue, beauty, and life, and bow or submit to the

absolutely intolerable. Then he finds that he and his

opposite are not of differing species, but one flesh.

(Campbell 108)

Sam fears he will turn evil. He struggles against the faceless inner demons. But to pass through the Initiation he needs to realize that whatever he is, he is. He must reconcile with himself, no matter who or what he may truly be.

These are the questions Sam sees reflected in their hunts (“Simon Says,” “Hunted”), just as Dean sees the “shades of grey” questions reflected. This is one of the essential inner journeys of the Road of Trials. “In our dreams the ageless perils, gargoyles, trials, secret helpers and intrusive figures are nightly still encountered; and in their forms we may see reflected not only the whole picture of our present case, but also the due to what we must do to be saved” (Campbell 101; emphasis mine). Sam and Dean are not tortured ethically and emotionally just to see some angst and drama on the screen. They are both searching for a way to be saved. Both boys are fighting to save Sam from turning evil, and both boys are fighting to save Dean from his own knee-jerk, virulent judgment. The Winchesters are fighting to save their souls.

        Dean: Sam, when Dad told me that I might have to kill

    you, it was only if I couldn’t save you. Now if it’s

    the last thing I do, I’m gonna save you.
(“Born Under A Bad Sign”)

All these “initiatory quests and moments of illumination” (Campbell 109) are part of the Road of Trials. And even within the strife, “there will be a multitude of preliminary victories, unretainable ecstasies, and momentary glimpses of the wonderful land” (Campbell 109).

This is better known as the bittersweet stage of Meeting With the Goddess.

Sam and Dean encounter the Goddess separately: Sam in the episode “Heart” and Dean in “What Is and What Should Never Be.” The fact that they go through this stage separately indicates they are the hero in themselves. This is not to suggest that Dean didn’t grow from the emotional milestone that was Madison’s death in “Heart.” Simply, the episode was a grotesque reminder of the presence of the Order, ominously shadowing the boys as the hand of destiny. Dean suffered a preview of what he will eventually have to do.

“Heart” is more than the Order and its consequences for Sam. The episode’s “saved person” is San Franciscan and Pretty Girl Madison. Its “hunted thing” is a werewolf shadowing her. After a pitifully uncreative game of “Rock-Paper-Scissors” on Dean’s part, Sam stays with Madison to protect her while Dean does the legwork and hunting. It is during the uneventful hours that Sam bonds with Madison.

While Dean is a rake, Sam is shy and awkward. At first he can’t even speak to Madison. After a while, they begin to talk. Madison tells him about her newly discovered self-dependence after she was mugged. Sam is impressed, clearly seeing her breakup with her “scary” boyfriend as a reflection of his own breaking away from his family.

The emotional connection drives Sam and Madison’s fervent attraction. Madison reawakens Sam’s sleeping desire. He had a moment similar to this with Sara in Season One’s “Provenance.” Like Jessica, like Sara, Madison is the “paragon of all paragons of beauty, the reply of all desire, the bliss-bestowing goal of every hero’s earthly and unearthly quest” (Campbell 111). Sam ultimately desires a True Love. He can never have Jessica back, but his heart still needs to be filled. “Time sealed her away, yet she is dwelling still, like the one who sleeps in timelessness, at the bottom of the timeless sea” (Campbell 111). Jessica, by virtue of her place within his heart and quest, is the idealized figure that will forever be preserved within his mind like Snow White in her glass coffin. At the end of Season One, Sam knows revenge will not fully satisfy him and cannot be his only drive. It would kill him. Revenge saps life.

Madison – the Goddess – makes him feel alive. To emphasize the point, Sam and Madison have sex. Sex: here being the pleasant visual symbol of humanness, of carnal impulse. It is fleshy and sweaty, blush with blood. It is more alive than anything else to do with human existence. The body has been traditionally seen as “worldly” and the mind as “otherworldly,” the body as the living prison of the immortal soul. The life-affirming (and perpetuating) ritual of sex marks “Heart” as the stage of the Meeting With the Goddess.

Or maybe it was just time for Sam to get some.

Life is the Goddess’ essence. “She encompasses the encompassing, nourishes the nourishing, and is the life of everything that lives” (Campbell 114).

The Goddess encompasses everything about life. Including mortality. “She is also the death of everything that dies. The whole round of existence is accomplished within her sway…She is the womb and the tomb” (Campbell 144). The Goddess is the destiny of the living, inseparable from bliss, necessary and inevitable. And “Heart” sticks to this.

Despite the efforts of Dean, there is no cure for Madison’s affliction of lycanthropy. This fact parallels Sam’s season-long struggle against fate, against destiny, against determinism. There is an even more frightening parallel. The Supernatural universe’s version of werewolf is a human oblivious to his condition. They have no memory of the murders they commit: the entire transformation is unconscious. This, paralleled with Sam’s situation, seems to imply that no matter how hard he tries, he will become something evil. He may think that he is the same, but unconsciously he is different. Sam has no control over his fate. The fate is inevitable, absolute, and incurable. And to journey through the stage of Meeting With the Goddess, the hero cannot “defeat” the Goddess’ “dark side.” That isn’t the lesson. Successful heroes must accept the Goddess, through and through. Life is beautiful, and it ends. The Hero is mortal. “Only geniuses capable of the highest realization can support the full revelation of the sublimity of this goddess…Fully to behold her would be a terrible accident for any person not spiritually prepared” (Campbell 115).

And it is terrible, indeed. There is nothing restrained in Sam’s horror when Madison asks him to kill her.

            Sam: We can find a way, alright? I can. I’m gonna save you.

            Madison: You tried. I know you tried. This is all there is left.

                            Help me, Sam. I want you to do it. I want it to be you –

            Sam: I can’t.

            Madison: I don’t wanna die. I don’t. But I can’t live like this.

                            This is the way you can save me. Please. I’m asking

                            you to save me.


Not only is this against the very ethics of Samness (not killing innocents), it also is (1) too much of a reminder of the now-ambiguous “saving people, hunting things” motto, and (2) a horrific preview of how Dean will eventually have to kill Sam to “save him.”

                It is too much for Sam. This is the potential danger of how great the Goddess is: she is blinding in both her beauty and her revulsion. “…the form of the goddess undergoes for him a series of transfigurations: she can never be greater than himself, though she can always promise more than he is yet capable of comprehending. She lures, she guides, she bids him burst his fetters” (Campbell 116). Sam is not yet capable of understanding the Goddess. He cannot accept both the evils and joys “with equal equanimity” (Campbell 114). He has seen too many loved ones die. Everything he has seen so far picks away at his emotional and spiritual stability (for the latter, see the episodes “Houses of the Holy” and “Roadkill”). He fears he himself will turn evil…instead of just being “Sam.” He frets over whether his actions are “evil” or “good” so much that he cannot live. It is too much for him to process – he is too tortured.

                Why does Sam need to be tortured so? Because the Meeting With the Goddess is where the hero must grow up from a childhood viewpoint.

Through this exercise his spirit is purged of its infantile,

inappropriate sentimentalities and resentments, and his

mind opened to the inscrutable presence which exists,

not primarily as “good” and “bad” with respect to his

childlike human convenience, his weal and woe, but as

the law and image of the nature of being. (Campbell 114)

The adult viewpoint understands that the world has a broad machination in place, whose workings are too vast for ephemeral mankind to comprehend. Nature, Life, the Goddess, is a paradoxical koan that illuminates the world. The world’s ways are not to be judged or categorized – that isn’t the point. The Meeting With the Goddess teaches the hero that there is good even in the evil, and therefore nothing really is polarized. Sam has to quit worrying if he will turn evil and begin to live in the present. For it is in his human action does Sam grow into his hero boots.
Tags: bobby singer, dean winchester, ellen harvelle, hero with a thousand faces, hero's journey, john winchester, joseph campbell, monomyth, sam winchester, supernatural
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